Tara Brach: Healing Depression with Meditation, Part 1

Tara Brach: Healing Depression with Meditation, Part 1

Namaste and welcome. When I’m welcoming, as many of you know, I’m
re-welcoming you that are right here in Bethesda and I’m welcoming you who are listening right
now and spread around the world and those in the future who’ll be listening on the podcast
because it does feel like a wonderful community that comes together. Which brings me to our talk. And the title is “Healing Depression with
Meditation” and it’s the first time I’ve ever given a specific talk on depression and so
when I started doing it I realized, “Hmmmm, this is going to be a two-part talk” and it
may be that it keeps going, we’ll see. But, as many of you know, there’s supposedly
by count three-hundred plus million people around the world that are depressed and it’s
the leading cause of disability in the world. And of all of us listening right now if not
ourselves, I am imagining that we know somebody very, very close in who really suffers from
major depression. And can I just see by hand raise how many
here – either yourself or someone you know – really does suffer in this way? Can I see by hands? I can certainly raise my hand. This is most of us. And maybe I’ll pause right now and even inviting
you to close your eyes and just sense the many people – ourselves included – who are
part of this web, this community of you might say loss, this particular expression of suffering,
that live with something so difficult and just feel our hearts tender and open to that
because one of the biggest illusions in depression is that in some way we are really alone and
it’s our fault, there’s shame that comes with it and isolation. So one of the intentions of exploring this
together is to sense that this is a really wide-spread and shared human suffering. Okay. And thank you for pausing in that way. So we’re going to be looking at how meditation
can help. And when I say meditation, meditation is training
our awareness and there are many kinds of meditations, so in particular I’d like to
break it down some and say how different parts of meditation or styles of meditation can
help in different ways to relieve this suffering, to bring healing. And there’s a lot of research that’s been
done on mindfulness and other meditations. And the preliminary research is showing helpfulness,
you know, on a par with other leading treatments and there is a long way to go. So part of this is that we’re exploring this
ourselves as practitioners, experimenting to see what works for us. The metaphor that I’ve kind of taken to that
I like, is to sense… If you know in the West there is these bending
rivers and in logging areas, the logs can get jammed around some of the turns and at
least in the past they used to have somebody with a long pole that could… if they went
right to a certain log or a few certain logs and could re-angle them, then the logs could
kind of re-adapt, ajust their positions and flow down the river. So I think of the constellation we call depression
– you know, the thoughts and feelings and biochemistry we call depression – like a log
jam and that there are a bunch of different logs that we can target that can help to get
things moving again, okay? And each of the leading treatments does that,
whether it’s cognitive behavioral therapies that might target certain belief systems and
how we hold on to them and keep perpetuating, you know, the pain or sometimes it’s physical
exercise that can dramatically change our biochemistry or it may be different medicines
psychoactive medicines that can do it, you know, all the antidepressants and a big, big
area is relationships, friends, therapeutic relationships. I saw this on the web, it says, “One awesome
thing about Eeyore” – you know Eeyore from “Winnie-The-Pooh” okay? – “is that even
though he is basically clinically depressed, he still gets invited to participate in adventures
and shenanigans with all his friends and they never expect him to pretend to feel happy,
they just love him anyway and they never leave him behind or ask him to change.” So one quality of relatedness is this profound
acceptance that doesn’t make us wrong or bad for being caught in this log jam, okay? Now I mentioned on my list of, you know, treatments
– and there is also a really opening in the field recently research on the use of psilocybin
and MDMA, and so there is a lot more coming down the pike in ways to reboot the system,
kind of shift some of the logs, whatever. But I want to just right from the start – because
antidepressants are in such wide use and so often I have people saying, “Yeah, but if
I’m going to use antidepressants isn’t that going to in some way sabotage my spiritual
path?” And some of you might have wondered the same
thing too. So I’m just going to say a few words about
that in a moment. But I just want to share that now about fifteen
years ago I went to a conference that was on trauma. And one of the posters for the conference
had a big, you know, the title there was, “If there was Prozac back then…” and first
it had a picture of Karl Marx saying, you know, “Hmmmm, capitalism could work if only
we tweak it a little,” you know, but my favorite one was Edgar Alan Poe who’s looking
out the window and he is saying, “Hello birdy.” Okay, so antidepressants: It’s nice to have
a hard line position and many people feel very strongly one way or the other. And I can say that over these decades I have
seen for some people antidepressants seem to be really, really helpful, make it even
possible to meditate and exercise and this and that, and I’ve seen others get very habituated
and seem to plateau and… who knows? So it’s really individual how it works. For some there is a stagnation that can happen
not to keep on investigating how to wake up and work with depression. Science has a long way to go on this. It’s a very inspecific science. Friend sent me a cartoon today and there is
a doctor and the patient is sitting on, you know, the table they sit on. And the patient is saying this, “I think we
should cut back on my antidepressant. I watched Old Yeller and it was hysterical.” So talking about dogs, there are more natural
ways. The same person sent me another therapist…
the client is on the couch. Therapist is saying, “Go home and let your
dog lick your face. Dog’s saliva is the most effective antidepressant
you can get without a prescription.” So we’re going to focus on the meditative
strategies that can bring healing. And the important thing I guess – one important
thing I want to communicate – is that I think of meditation as rarely sufficient by itself. I think meditation is essential in really
fully healing and yet it needs other elements like a real focus on relationships and for
some people, you know, medication or for others, you know, really strong exercise regime or
whatever, but it’s not alone, but I do think of it as essential. And the reason why is because not only does
meditation shift the logs around – and you can actually do MRIs and see the shifts in
the brain and so on – but it’s empowering because we start realizing that we can direct
our own attention in a way that starts to heal and free us. So it shifts the logs around, it helps to
get us back into a flow state, it’s empowering, and the final thing is that the very nature
of meditative attention is it helps us realize who we are, that we are not the log jam. You are not your depression, your depression
doesn’t have to define you, and through meditation we get those glimmers of that who we are is
something more. We’re that tenderness, that awareness, that
kindness, that wakefulness that we start to sense in the background. And those glimpses are really what’s liberating. So we’re going to be digging into the different
meditative strategies. But to set a bit of a context, the first is:
So what is depression? And there is different facets to it, but you
might say it is a low and unpleasant, painful mood. It’s characterized by a loss of interest
in life, in engagement and often a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, feeling numb
or empty, disconnected. It’s very often accompanied, as I mentioned
earlier, by shame like, “I feel low and this is my fault and I’m bad and it reflects something
bad about me.” So it’s accompanied by that shame, and it’s
also accompanied by anxiety because we feel at risk. So that is the kind of the cluster. You can see in the statistics that you usually
see women as higher up on depression the men is a bit lower, but many professionals feel
like men present with symptoms of depression like aggression or like anger or addiction
but underneath that is depression. So it’s hard to tell. An important thing to explore in ourselves
and others is the difference between depression and sadness, sorrow, grieving. In this culture we’re not so good at creating
the space for sorrow and grieving. There are some cultures that have a whole
ritual around, you know, when somebody has had a major loss, a lot of open time where
there is no demands, where it is just assumed that person is going to kind of burrow in. And the recognition is that grieving and sadness
is entirely natural. I mean, we can see it in animals. I think of elephants because I’ve a few books
I’ve read about elephants and articles and they’re just such a fascination. But they live about as long as we do, they
have really tight herds, and when an elephant mom loses a calf I mean she is in grief. Sometimes they have to leave behind the weaker
ones, there is mourning and grief. It’s very visible. And with humans, we have all these losses
that are inevitably part of being alive whether it’s the losses of our own aging and sickness
and death or people that we love or the relationships that don’t work out and break our hearts
or losses of job or losses of freedom, you know, loss of home or loss of a place to live. There are just all these different levels
of losses. And then we have the more subtle but very
deep ones where we have the loss of I sometimes think of as the “unlived life,” the sense
of what could have been or might have been or that we wish we’d have. And then there is the loss in our world. We see the loss of species and it breaks our
heart. We see the suffering and loss of other animals
that are alive and the cruelty to farm animals and that breaks our heart. There is loss after loss. And then the human losses around the planet. So here is the basic principal: that when
there is loss and we don’t feel it and grieve it, it converts into depression. Ungrieved loss, ungrieved sorrow, when we
haven’t faced it, felt it, digested it, it’s like a wound that never healed. It prematurely got covered over and then it
gets septic in some way, does that make sense? It’s one of the great, you know, kind of spiritual
crises in our culture is ungrieved life. It gets buried and it turns into depression. So sadness is intelligent, it’s adaptive. Sadness, you know, if you really sense: well,
what does sadness do? It moves us towards accepting loss, that something
has passed and it moves us towards reconnecting in some way, restoring connection, that’s
what sadness does. It brings us often to a more timeless loving. For me I found grief, when I really grieved
– I opened to what’s embedded in the grief which is a love that’s undying. That often happens when I’m feeling the waves
of missing my parents – that I will feel the sadness but then right in the very essence
of that sadness is just the loving of them that can’t go away. The difference is important and also the relationship
between ungrieved losses and depression. Now when we are going into depression – and
into major depression – just to look at that, the brain is no longer regulating our mood. We are out of wax so to speak. And when we lock in, when the system gets
low like that, it takes over and it defines us, our life is defined by depression, it
limits us. And the challenge is it’s self-sustaining
and it kind of is virulent, it extends itself on its own once it begins looping, because
think about how we experience depression. There’s depressing thoughts going on about
what’s wrong, that reinforces a biochemistry that’s depressed and there’s also a level
of the electrical messages, the neuropathways and so on, so all of that goes on, which then
generates more thoughts which generates more feelings and on and on it loops, unless we
have a pole and we know how to move the logs which we’ll get to. Part of the looping is that when we have the
thoughts and feelings looping they create behaviors that then sustain our situation. So the thoughts might be, “I’ll never find
love” and the feelings might be that sinking feeling and the sense of shame and the fear
and then the behaviors that come out of it are not really open to relationship which
then reaffirms “I’ll never find love” and I know you get it. But that’s what I mean by self-sustaining. That’s why when the weather-system of depression
sets in it’s very tenacious, okay? So what inclines us? How come some people… I mean, we can all get set off and feel a
real sense of loss and real intense stress and all of us can go down a bit into depression
– not just grieve it, but like in some way delay the grieving, avoid our feelings and
get depressed – that happens to everybody I know. How come some people lock into major depression? Okay. It’s fifty percent inheritable. So genetics. Big one. Okay? Fifty percent inherited. Chemical imbalance in certain ways. If there is trauma early on, it changes the
neurocircutry and it inclines us more to depression. If there is trauma in another generation,
the circuitry from that generation get inherited. So there is preexisting conditions that make
us more inclined. But the key understanding if you sense, you
know, how come we go down into depression, is that we get stressed by something, some
loss, some intense loss, or maybe it is ongoing pain – because pain can go right into depression,
I know that one personally how, you know, after a certain amount of chronic pain, my
system just became depressed and my thoughts were depressed thoughts and I just began looping. So some form of trauma whether it’s in a past
generation or this lifetime or really severe stress ends up throwing us off; in other words,
our basic needs are not being met. The trauma of it could be starvation but it
more likely not being nourished in relationships – not being seen, not being loved, not feeling
safe, not feeling belonging. It throws us off. Poor parenting… So then we have severed belonging. That’s depression. I mean, when severed belonging – the loss
of connection – is not processed, we get depressed. And then we feel more disconnected which makes
us more depressed. So depression is about disconnection. Everything we’re going to explore in terms
of meditation – moving the logs – has to do with reconnecting to aliveness, to our hearts,
to awareness. When we are disconnected, the limbic system
basically is dominating so it’s not just depression, it’s usually also shame and fear and anger
and other stuff and our frontal cortex, not so much of a flow of communication so we lack
access to our most important resources of empathy, compassion, mindfulness, humor, good
reasoning. So that’s part of the challenge. You can see it in animals and you can see
it in humans. I’ve always been struck by some of the studies. One study of chimps… And I share this I’m realizing that I very
much don’t approve of and want to have any studies of primates that hurt primates, so
I share with you this with that understanding that in this study baby chimps were deprived,
they had erratic mothering, the outcome of deprivation, maternal deprivation – binge
eating, antisocial behavior, withdrawn, fearful, depressed. When we don’t get our needs met, when there
is severed belonging and there is not a way of processing it, we get depressed. We see it in humans too. We see it culturally. You know, in a culture where there is not
so much natural belonging, how much addiction there is, how much depression and anxiety,
and particularly in the most historically marginalized groups that have been traumatized,
it’s, you know, societally induced trauma – severed belonging, goes into depression. For anybody that’s experienced it – any of
you listening, any that you know – being cut off from aliveness, from hope, from feelings
of connection is a horrible biological/psychological prison. It’s horrific. So that’s context. Now the healing, as I mentioned, is: we’re
restoring connection. And from the Buddha, he says, “I would not
be teaching you this dharma, this path, if it weren’t possible to experience freedom
and happiness.” So the first message is: It’s possible. Now this is really important because the key-feature
of depression is, “It’s not going to work for me.” Okay? So this is the core teaching of the Buddha,
“I wouldn’t be teaching you this, if it weren’t possible.” And modern neuroscience is saying the same
thing: neuroplacicity, neuroplacicity, neuroplacicity, right? That, even though the patterning can be deeply
grooved, the brain is plastic throughout our lives. So we’re going to be for the rest of these
two talks – maybe more but we’ll see – we’re going to be looking at intentional pathways
of reconnecting. I’m going to be emphasizing them now, I’m
going to name them now and then we’ll get probably to two of them for the rest of tonight. The first pathway is reconnecting to our heart’s
intention, to what matters to us. The second pathway is moving from thoughts
to presence, being able to come out of the ruminations and coming into the here and now. The third that we’re going to explore is mindful
self-compassion, how to bring mindfulness and compassion into the present moment. And then the last is gladdening the mind;
gladdening the mind. And each one is a way to wake up to wholeness. And different ones of us need different emphasis
at different times. So we’ll start with intention because that
really is the opening of the door. And when we feel the logs are jammed, when
we feel stuck – and stuck is the best word – it feels like there is no way out of the
down-ness and the unpleasantness and all the self-negative and the disconnection, feels
like there’s no way out. And yet there is something in us that wishes
we could get out. And that wish is the beginning of intention. A couple of years ago, there was a New Yorker
article and it was about a Japanese monk – his name was Nymoto – that was responding to people
who were severely depressed and suicidal. And he set up this website and so on. Japan’s suicide rates twice that of the United
States. Or at least it was. So he was having a workshop at his temple. And he describes his workshop. And he did an exercise. We’re doing a tiny little piece of it, a little
version of it. “If you had three months to live and you
were diagnosed with cancer, what do you want to do?” That was the exercise. And he gave people paper. And then he said, “If you had one month… If you had a week… If you had ten minutes…” Okay? So let’s say you decide that what’s important
is being loving or helping or expressing your creativity with poetry or realizing your true
nature, you just start writing about that and what it would be like, so you lean into
like really what is it that you want, how do you want to live. So one man was there weeping and he had a
completely blank piece of paper. And he said that he up until this moment had
only thought about wanting to die, about what was wrong and bad not about wanting to live. And if he hadn’t really lived, how could he
want to die? So the insight was really freeing for him. In fact, he returned to his job – you know,
a lot of suicidal people just stop doing everything – he had stopped doing everything, he was…
he had been adverse to communicating with others, he started to do that, and his life
really shifted. So the basic teaching here is that the log
jam does not include a sense of positive intention. We are cut off from that part of the frontal
cortex that imagines and intends and has aspiration for something positive. But it can be activated. We can reconnect to that. So the challenge here is again that even when
you bring this up for somebody that’s really stuck, the response is a hopelessness. This habit of, “I can’t change” is right at
the root. It’s a deep, deep belief, this negativity-bias. Completely honed in on oneself. So I was at teaching at Omega last weekend. And one person who came up to talk to me was
really, really hopeless about her life. And that was what she led with. She said, “I can do something here, Tara,
you’re leading this meditation and I can feel a little bit of whatever, but there is no
way in the force field of how my day goes, there is no way and I get slammed around and
I just end hating myself and feeling like everybody…,” you know, so she explained
how it was. And so I said, “Okay, so you are here. What brought you here?” She said, “Well, I want to feel better.” And so I said, “So what would that be like?” And in a way that was like a shocking question,
just like for that man in the story. And I said, “Just start there. What is ‘better’ like?” And she said, “Well, I guess I would trust
myself some.” “Well, what would that be like?” You know, and we were sort of going into it
and… What I really want to communicate is, you
can’t artificially hope. You can’t say, “Okay, I’m going to be hopeful.” But what you can do is start sensing your
longing to move in a direction. Because it’s in us. There’s something in us that intuits a possibility
and you can build on that. Now I want to pause here and say: There is
a real difference between, you know, “I want to live my life, I want to wake up my heart,”
and what you might call the more narrow attached wants. So if you ask a person, “Well, get in touch
with your intention” and they say, “Well, my intention is I really want my ex-partner
to come back and then I’ll be happy” or, “My intention is I want to get this particular
job and then I’ll be happy” or you know, “I want to be able to dance professionally even
though I just had both knees replaced in the next two weeks, then I’ll be happy,” you
know, and it goes on and on, “I want to win a competition.” In other words, narrow, fixated wants are
not going to reconnect us with our heart’s aspiration. A Baptist pastor was presenting a children’s
sermon and during it he asked the children if they knew what the resurrection was. Now asking questions during a children’s sermon
is crucial but at the same time he asked in front of the whole congregation. So that was pretty interesting. Now so he asked what the meaning of the resurrection
was. A little boy raised his hand, he called on
him and this is what the little boy said, “I know that if you have a resurrection that
lasts more than four hours you’re supposed to call a doctor.” It took the congregation like ten minutes
to settle down after that. So this was a very bad example of when we
fixate our wants. But what I’m really suggesting is, there’s
a difference between narrow wants and then we start really getting in touch with our
deep aspiration. And one of the ways to sense a deep aspiration
is like an acorn to an oak. It is that in us which wants to experience
our full potential to love, to live, to be creative; it’s what’s already here that we
want to allow to unfold. Second example for you from this story about
Nymoto – the monk. So he had this website and people that wanted
help would write to him and call him. And he would have these phone calls and these
conversations would go on and on, people call him back and he felt it was really really
circular and there was often no progress at all and it was just him burning out, but he
didn’t sense people getting better. So he felt he was doing something wrong and
decided that if people who were depressed wanted his council they had to come to his
temple. And his temple was in a really remote place. So they’d have to really want help. So one man walks five hours to get to Nymoto’s
temple. And the walk is like this heroic journey because
he had been living as a shut-in – you all know what a shut-in is, staying at home, never
going out – so there he is, suddenly he is in the sun and he is walking and sweating
and moving and feeling his body active and as he walks he is thinking about what he is
going to say and he is becoming really aware of what’s really, you know, because this is
really what’s been so challenging, this is what hurts, so he is actually paying attention
to his inner experience. And it has been a really long time since he
spoke to anyone so this is quite a thing to feel like he’s having the courage to bring
his intimate experience to someone else. So he is sweating and reflecting and walking. And he finally gets there after five hours. And that’s the peak of the experience. Five hours. And he goes to Nymoto and he announces that
he has achieved understanding, no longer needs his help and he turns around and he walks
back home. So that’s the prescription. But it’s really interesting. What happened there? It’s a real story. And I think it’s kind of archetypal in a way,
which is why I wanted to share it. That in some way he was in touch with his
aspiration, he did want to get better, and what aspiration does, when you start getting
in touch with the pain of not feeling like you’re living who you could be. That’s a loss and it’s an ungrieved loss. Once you start grieving it and then feeling
in that grief, “I really want to be who I can be,” that longing energizes you to take
some steps. And the problem with depression is it’s paralyzing. So aspiration gets you into motion, it lets
you take a risk, it lets you walk you in the sun five miles to a temple, okay? And so that was the first thing; so he dedicated
energy to it and then as he was dedicating that energy – because things are moving and
he is moving around – he is paying attention to some of the layers of what’s there that
aren’t so static and so buried, reconnecting with flow and with aliveness. And that reconnecting is the antidote to depression. The log jam is there because flow is blocked. Connecting with intention and our energy to
move in our bodies and the layers that are there starts to undo the jam. He understood that. So we’re going to do a brief reflection on
this. The Hebrew prophets warned that without vision
people perish. So this connecting with what matters to us
which is really the core element of hope, of healthy hope, this imagination, being able
to imagine and sense into the potential. So in this reflection right now, if you knew
right now that this is the last month, what would matter to you? What would you want to be doing or experiencing
or paying attention to? If you bring to mind a few people you care
about and imagine that in this last month you are with those people, what is it that’s
going to matter? And if you could sense you don’t know how
long you have and feel into the prayer in your heart, “Please may I…” and just fill
in the blank, what’s the longing? What happens if you let that longing really
fill you, like really mean it, be sincere? And when you are feeling sincere prayer or
longing, what’s your sense of who you are? Notice what it’s like. And can you sense the difference between the
sense of presence and beingness who’s that in you which is praying and the stuck self
inside the log jam? The sign of the meditative pathway and the
healing is that shift, sensing who you are, that enlarged sense of being. Okay. Take a few full breaths. Okay, so the first way of reconnecting: getting
in touch with intention. The second is calling the heart to presence. And one of the key perpetuators of depression
is ruminating thoughts. And, even if we are not depressed, we have,
you know, most of us get carried away into virtual worlds and we lose touch with our
aliveness. So one of the most basic practices is to have
an anchor in presence. In other words your breath, your body, feeling
of aliveness right here. Often people that are very depressed are cut
off from full body-awareness – because trauma, you know, cuts us off from body-awareness
– so then use another sense. Feel the hands alive because you can feel
your hands even when you are generally dissociated or feel your breath or listen to sounds. But something that helps you be here. And once you set that anchor and name ahead
of time what are the thoughts and beliefs you know are the typical ones that keep fueling
depression, well we know them, they’re the ones that are saying “Something is wrong with
me,” right? We know that kind, “I am not going to change,”
“I am trapped,” “I am isolated,” “I’ll never have what I want,” it’s that rage. So we start getting to identify those when
they come up, “Okay, limiting thought, limiting thought, come back to the anchor.” That’s a nutshell summary of how to practice. That’s the meditation. And then through the day we kind of look for
them. And the Buddha put it this way, which I think
is a great nutshell summary, “Whatever a person frequently thinks and reflects on, that will
become the inclination of their mind. Whatever a person frequently thinks and reflects
on, that will become the inclination of their mind.” And neuroscience says, “Neurons that fire
together, wire together,” you know, the more you think negative self-thoughts, the
more deep those grooves are, the more that becomes the habit. So ahead of time we say, “Okay, when those
come up, we’re going to notice them and we’re going to come right back to here and we’re
going to breathe ourselves right here until it becomes a habit of interrupting rumination.” It’s really important because that really
shifts things. The more we are in those thoughts the more
we are living an idea of a self, a role, that then perpetuates the very behaviors that confirm
our beliefs. So interrupting the thoughts is a really big
one. I heard a story of a lifetime smoker. And he was hospitalized for emphysema and
he had had a series of small strokes so his daughter was urging him, you know, she had
often done to give up smoking. And he is refusing and, you know, he has been
pretty addicted for his lifetime and he says, “Look, I am a smoker for this life and that’s
how it is!” But several days later he had another small
stroke. And this one hit up the memory centers in
his brain. So then without a concern he stopped smoking
for good. And it wasn’t because he decided to, he woke
up one morning, he forgot he was a smoker, you know. We are so used to thinking about ourselves
as a certain kind of person – including an unworthy person or an unlikable person or
whatever – if we keep thinking it, it’s there and then our behaviors come out of it. Now we hopefully don’t have to have a stroke. But in a way this kind of meditation can decrease
the frequency and help to shift our sense of who we are. So in this cocoon of thinking we have a lot
of repeating thoughts. A lot of them are projection. The more we are under the grip of the limbic
system the more things that are going on with us we project onto other people, so there
is that sense of “I don’t like me! You couldn’t possibly like me!” You know that kind of a thing? An old man – just another story – was wondering
if his wife had a hearing problem or just wasn’t listening to him. So one night he stood behind her while she
was sitting in the lounge chair and he spoke softly. He said, “Honey, can you hear me?” No response. He moves a little closer and says again, “Honey,
can you hear me?” Still no response. Then he was right behind her and he said,
“Honey, can you hear me?” And she replies, “For the third time: yes!” We project. Okay. So, as mentioned, we can shift the log jam
by coming back to our body every time we catch ourselves in thoughts. And we can also begin to reflect because if
you can catch yourself in thoughts, what you’re doing is becoming mindful of thinking which
means you are bigger than the thoughts, you’re resting in the awareness that’s bigger than
the thoughts, which reveals – and this is the insight – you don’t have to believe your
thoughts. Now if you can leave tonight with a little
bit of a sense of it’s possible to start catching on to thoughts, coming back to presence and
then not believing them so much, not believing them so much – remember that line “Real
but not true” that one Tibetan teacher taught me – you can get that yes, it’s a real thought
going on, but it’s not true, that’s just the programming here. So you can start to sense from mindfulness
that you don’t have to believe them, that you can challenge them. Do I know this is true? How do I feel when I am believing this? What’s it like not to believe this? Okay. So William James – this is to me one of the
most fascinating historical examples of the log jam being moved by working with thoughts. Many of you know he came from a super-accomplished
family, he was a very successful writer, and in his thirties he was unaccomplished. He wanted to be a painter, then he enrolled
in med school, then he quit to do an expedition of the Amazon and then he quit that and then
in a moment of real facing his life reckoning in his diary, he questioned his capacity to
be productive in any way in his life, that he should be alive at all. So he was hitting bottom. And he decided that before doing anything
rash, he was going to do a one-year experiment with his beliefs in his unworthiness, his
beliefs that he would never be successful, his beliefs in his failure. So his one-year experiment was that every
time those kind of thoughts would come up, he would kind of let them go and come back
to that sense of “change is possible.” He didn’t use the word “neuroplacicity” but,
you know, something… that was it, he was just going to say, “Look, change is possible!” And he tracked in his diary and he practiced
every day. So his view was as if things could change. And that “as if” created a receptivity to
opportunities and his energy increased and he got more aligned with his deepest interests
and he got married and then he started teaching at Harvard and then he had a study group with
a metaphysical club. And this is what he wrote in a letter, “I
possess for the first time an intelligible and reasonable conception of freedom.” When we began, I described the power of these
meditative strategies. They shift our mood for sure but they do more,
they are empowering because you don’t have to have somebody else guiding you or be taking
something. You can do that too, just support it, but
they’re actually ways we ourselves can shift our attention to access our aspiration, to
energize, to engage and to step out of rumination. So we’re going to end with a short practice
on this too. And this is, as in many of these reflections,
something that requires more time than we’ll be giving it so this is a taste and I invite
you to practice on your own. But for now just bring an area to mind in
your life where you feel doubt, where don’t feel as hopeful as you want to feel – might
be in work, relationships, health, spiritual unfolding – where you feel some stuckness. Maybe it’s an emotional reactivity where you’re
not trusting that you can change your pattern. And once you have it in mind, sense what you’re
believing. When we’re stuck, we have some corresponding
belief. Sometimes it’s “I’m going to fail”
or “I’ll never get what I want” or “I’ll never find intimacy” or “I’ll always
let people down,” “I’ll always be rejected.” What are the limiting thoughts that go through
your mind or the beliefs that surround the stuck place? Maybe it’s that basic “I can’t trust
that I’ll ever change.” Just recognize and sense that you could really
call on your full mindful presence – what you might call your future self, your most
awake awareness, so you can shine a light on the thought and the belief and know this
is one you want to track and keep waking up from. And for now notice what happens when you’re
believing it. Sense how it imprisons, how it depresses and
severs you from possibility, from openness, from receptivity to something different. And from your wisdom-self, your highest self,
sense that understanding that change is possible. And just ask yourself: What would my life
be like if I didn’t believe in this? Just get a glimmer, a glimpse. What would my life be like if I no longer
believed this? Who would I be if I didn’t believe this? You might notice the difference between that
sense of beingness, that mystery, that presence, and the one who believes and is caught in
a log jam; just notice the difference. We’ll close with the words of Rumi, “Be
empty of worrying. Think of who created thought. Why do you stay in prison when the door is
so wide open. Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking. Live in silence. Flow down and down in always widening rings
of being.” Namaste and thank you for your presence.


  1. The many, many thousands of people in serious suffering getting off antidepressants suggest that they are not a healthy alternative for healing depression. Go to Surviving Antidepressants .Org and see for yourself. In studies found to be no better than placebo. Educate yourself.

  2. ? Thank you for another rich share of wisdom and compassion. Thank you, so much, for the insight on sadness and love for our parents.

  3. Thank you thank you Tara Brach . so much deep appreciation for these talks you give! P.S> Not sure if ya'll know this ? on a side note to the Sound Tech's , "maybe" adjusting the treble will eliminate the high pitch S's and T's ? please forgive me if i have stepped out of bounds . Namaste love and kind thoughts

  4. Namaste Tara. Thank you so much for offering hope. As a person on medication I used to wonder how I could traverse the spiritual path, if at all. Your words give me hope.

  5. I love your sense of humor Tara! You so wonderfully shorten the learning curve. You make enlightenment a kind journey.

  6. Your soothing, loving voice has helped me often, Tara. I spent one painful afternoon in bed just listening to these videos on autoplay. I suggest the book Manufacturing Depression for an enlightening study of the anti-depressant industry.

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